Monarchies in MENA

Youth movements have been a source of instability in monarchies that causes a lot of issues. This as it relates to population growth means there are now more people for monarchs in different countries to manage and more and more are younger and therefore less inclined to blindly follow the status quo. Especially in countries that have heavily invested in the education of youth, unemployment and underemployment have been major concerns for leaders of Monarchies in the Middle East. The media plays a role in this as well. Media not only acts as a means of enhancing the demonstration effect where people are inspired by demonstrations in one place to then start their own, but it also served as a platform that many people could communicate through with a degree of anonymity.  The lack of a defined leader in groups that operate on social media also make repression and punishment of these media groups harder to carry out. The “February 14th movement” in Bahrain and the “February 20th movement” in Morocco are examples of online movements that allowed people to engage in discussion and act as a driver of mobilization (Khatib and Lust). Coalitions between groups also are seen as threats to Monarchs. A problem for many groups is overcoming differences in ideologies and so when this can happen there is opportunity to then call on the government for reforms or in some instances regime change.

The Divide and Rule strategy is a good way for Monarchs to retain power. When people are so focused on their differences in ideology and there is infighting between groups it is harder to maintain a solid opposition to the government. Monarchs will try to pit different groups against each other to keep themselves on top. This can be seen in countries like Bahrain where the Sunni-Shia split was used to deter protests. Sectarian differences could be exploited to disrupt political momentum for opposition. For Bahrain, “after independence from Britain in 1971, the division between the Sunnis and the Shias became increasingly political” (Khatib and Lust. 174).  Saudi Arabia also is an example as seen when they would make issues like a woman’s right to drive public so that more liberal groups would argue with Islamist groups and make it less likely the two worked together. The leader can portray an “Islamist Threat” to the liberals and a “Liberal Threat” to the Islamists and pit the two “against each other, while sitting above as arbitrator” (Khatib and Lust. 302). An unclear sense of identity as seen in Jordan also works in a Monarch’s favor. If the people are caught up in who they are and their makeup as a country they will not be as cohesive in protesting the government.  International politics while a concern when thinking about the demonstration effect can also work in the favor of rulers in some instances. Countries like Saudi Arabia are invested in maintaining stable autocratic rule and so Monarchs in the region can rely on its support to help maintain control over the population.  The vast amounts of resources at the disposal of Monarchs also are a major asset for them. When countries have the means to provide a good quality of life for their citizens, they will be more acquiescent and less likely to rebel. If they do rebel money from oil rents can be used to strengthen the state repressive apparatus to quell demonstrations. Countries with large amounts of resources can also better co-opt potential opposition so that they either abstain from dissenting against the regime or even work in the government’s interests. An example of this is al-Wefaq in Bahrain which was co-opted to act as an intermediary between opposition and the regime. But due to the cooptation of this organization it has lost credibility and in a lot of ways discouraged people from taking steps to protest the regime. The cooptation of al-Wefaq and other groups has however caused some points of concerns in the regime in the fractions within the regime it has highlighted and the increased mobilization of Sunnis who don’t like a Sunni regime backing a Shia organization. Leaders are able to have solid control in this region because despite seeing uprisings they make very good use of their assets to assert control and maintain power.

Linda Katib and Ellen Lust. Taking to the Streets The Transformation of Arab Activism. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.






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